Fish poachers targeted in Irish border operation

Rainbow trout (file image) Image copyright AFP
Image caption Trout and salmon are particularly vulnerable, the Loughs Agency said

A cross border crackdown targeting fish poachers has been launched in the north west of Ireland.

Operation Silver Fin involves the Loughs Agency, PSNI, the Partnership for Action Against Wildlife Crime and An Garda Síochána (Irish police).

Poachers often target salmon in the Foyle river system, which runs through Northern Ireland and the Republic.

PSNI Sgt James McLaughlin said the impact of poaching "cannot be overstated".

"At the most serious level it can have a direct impact on the economic, environmental and cultural lives of communities and can also negatively affect the conservation status of some native species," he said.

Image caption The operation is a join initiative involving the PSNI, Loughs Agency and An Garda Síochána

The Loughs Agency said that since 2014 around 700 items connected to poaching, including nets and boats, have been seized on the Foyle and Carlingford waterways.

"The fish here are really important, economically and socially. This partnership is a huge step forward for us," said Lionel Knobbs of the Loughs Agency.

He said some of the poacher's nets can span 100 metres of river.

Cross-border aspect 'vital'

"That's an example of the scale of what is happening here. Poachers are changing, they are more mobile, more transient, moving about from one area to another."

He said both salmon and trout were especially vulnerable in the Foyle and Finn rivers because of poaching.

Operation Silver Fin was originally launched in Toome, County Londonderry, earlier this year.

The operation's cross-border strand was launched in Strabane, County Tyrone on Tuesday.

It aims to encourage the public to report fish poaching to the appropriate authorities.

Image caption The river system spans three Irish counties - Tyrone and Derry in Northern Ireland, and Donegal in the Republic.

Garda Supt Martin Walker said an inter-agency, cross-border approach was vital to its success.

"No one agency is in a position to robustly tackle this criminal activity. That's why it is very important to have this joint cross-border cooperation."

He said he did not believe Brexit would impact on the cross-border dynamic.

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